On social media this week I read a comment, relating to a plant-based burger currently on sale at a well known fast food outlet, stating that availability and convenience of plant-based foods was a positive move for animal liberation. This was just one individual, yet I find it a common theme recently, with the current boom in the market for 'vegan-friendly options'. There is a very widely held misconception that the rise in availability of these options means less animals are being bred, reared and killed for food. Nothing could be further from the truth. Available data only goes up to 2014, but one look at this site gives a chilling view of the growing volumes of individuals who are still in this system. https://ourworldindata.org/meat-production. (Note that these figures are about 'meat' so the numbers are in weight, not individuals. Last data at 2016 states that 75 billion land animals were killed in that year for food, not including billions of unwanted male chicks from the egg industry and trillions of ocean dwellers.)
There is another terrible misconception in some animal rights advocacy, that we should hide the word vegan as it may have negative connotations. (Tell that to the companies now making huge profits from vegan food alternatives, I think they would disagree). Also, that we should not focus on the suffering of other animals as this makes us look preachy, upsetting and supposedly turning non-vegans away in droves. We are told we should instead promote the benefits to humans of plant-based eating, and use environmental factors – again with the emphasis on humans no longer being able to enjoy the planet or her inhabitants - as a reason to stop farming animals.
This school of thought, encouraging people to take steps to a healthier (for them), plant-based diet, while de-centring the animals in the argument, imagines an eventuality where by some magical osmosis they come to understand their speciesism and are led to the true meaning of veganism, which is justice for all, regardless of species, and an end to exploitation.
To me this thinking seems counter-intuitive. Because while we focus, as we have for countless generations, on ourselves and our own existence, we can never hope to really see, understand, and be horrified by what we do to others. Promoting plant based eating does nothing at all to highlight the wrongs of exploitation. It hides behind it an unspeakable injustice, where trillions of individuals suffer every year for us to use their bodies; for sport, for vivisection, for entertainment, for clothing, and of course in order for us to consume their flesh, milk and eggs. Plant-based living does not address one of the biggest social justice issues of our time, that of animal rights.
What is one thing that people who have turned vegan almost always say? That before they chose that life, that path, they didn't know about what happens to animals. They did not know. Some had never considered, nor had it presented to them, that animals other than themselves and the ones they call 'pet' could feel. That they could experience the same range of emotions as us, that they suffer needlessly in their billions every year for us. That they are equally due the same basic rights to live freely as us.
Most of us thought we loved animals, yet were unaware of the horrors we were complicit in, even if we chose a vegetarian diet. It can be shocking now, as an animal rights activist, to still find intelligent, kind, empathetic members of the public who are unaware, for example, that behind every drop of cow's milk is a mother, artificially impregnated every year, to have her child taken away at birth so we can take her milk. Just one of the countless atrocities we bring down upon other species. I always remind myself that once I was that person. The one who didn't know.
I identify as a vegan and an animal rights artist. There is an ever growing collective of creatives like me worldwide, connected by that which has stirred our souls, the realisation of our senseless use of other animals. We use our art as a tool for change, exposing the deep-seated speciesism we are all indoctrinated with from birth, aiming to help our audience to identify and empathise with the animal victims of our non-vegan choices. Humans have been systematically refusing to 'see' other animals for thousands of years, and I personally see it as my job for the rest of my days to make people see WHO animals are. To de-centre our selfish selves and allow those others the space to move into the centre of our understanding of how the world works.
Though I identify as vegan, my advocacy is not about making vegans. It is about letting others know, unapologetically and without hiding behind false claims, that which once I didn't know. It is about trusting that they will take that information to it's right conclusion.
If we have enough cognitive ability that we can make our own choices about what we consume, then we are capable of accepting information regarding to the reality behind those choices. To water down the message of the harms caused by what most people innocently believe are simple everyday behaviours, to make the assumption that most are incapable of understanding, using the excuse that it may be 'too hard' for them to comprehend, is degrading to human intelligence and does great disservice to those who are suffering every second of every day due to those behaviours.
We need to jolt people out of their apathy, their refusal to see. Informing each other while challenging our deeply ingrained thought patterns is the only way out of complacency and apathy. Reality is shit, and looking at it hurts. But by looking away we are complicit in allowing it to continue. The only way we can make it go away and create a space where there is true liberation for all animals, ourselves included, is to confront our inherited reality, together, in huge numbers, and make the change.
We urgently need to speak the truth, clearly and without judgement, and allow non-vegans to make their own minds up with the information they have been given. We have a huge job to do here, in order to change the systems we have lived under for generations, systems which oppress us and all others who share the planet with us. I do not believe we can ever 'make people vegan' by offering alternative foods, tied in with those placatory yet false assumptions that this will 'save animals', and it is certainly not the way forward to a just world.